cannabis

The Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors is narrowing down a list of proposals for cannabis storefront and commercial cultivation businesses — including a number in East County — in anticipation of some sprouting up in unincorporated county areas.

The move comes on the heels of state voters approving the Control, Regulate and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana Act Tax Adult Use of Marijuana Act in November 2016, which gives local agencies the option of allowing and controlling commercial marijuana cultivators, manufacturers, distributors, retailers and testing laboratories.

The board requested that interested cannabis storefront and commercial cultivation operators submit proposals for Commercial Cannabis Activity Land Use Permits in February. A county interdepartmental panel has since collected and ranked viable applicants, with the board expected to invite up to four storefront cannabis retailers, ten commercial cannabis cultivators and two commercial cannabis manufacturers to apply for permits on Dec. 10.

County staff is recommending that seven of the 19 cultivators analyzed, including three in unincorporated Brentwood and one in Byron, be invited to apply for a permit. Twenty retail storefront applicants, in Pacheco, El Sobrante, Bay Point, Richmond and Clyde, are vying for four applications. No commercial cannabis manufacturing proposals were received.

The recommended East County businesses are Lifted Spirit Collective at 5930 Balfour Road in unincorporated Brentwood; Element 7, hoping to operate separate locations at 3645 Willow Way in Byron and 0 Chestnut St. in Brentwood; and Diablo Valley Farms, looking to operate at 4425 Sellers Ave. in unincorporated Brentwood.

“My goal is to make sure we bring in the right people to help the county enter this unknown,” said District 3 Supervisor Diane Burgis. “We are being cautious and careful, so that is why we did this RFP (request for proposal) process.”

Businesses selected by the board to apply for land use permits in December will have 90 days to formally submit applications, thus beginning a lengthy planning process encompassing California Environmental Quality Act review, formal public notification and public hearings, all before the permit is approved. Companies would also need to garner a series of other licenses and permits.

Once established, chosen entities will pay voter–approved county cannabis taxes at annual rates of up to $7 per canopy square foot for cultivation (adjustable for inflation) and up to 4% of gross receipts for all other cannabis businesses, including retailers —bringing in an estimated $1.7 to $4.4 million annually to fund general county expenses such as public safety, health services and environmental protection.

“We had a really good turnout of applications, so I am really encouraged because that is what we want,” Burgis said. “We want good operators in Contra Costa County.”

An interdepartmental county staff team scored applicants on a number of factors, including ownership qualifications, location, submitted business and operating plans, proposed security, sustainability and community and economic benefit.

Eleven of 19 cultivation applications — eight in Knightsen and one each in Byron, Bethel Island and unincorporated Brentwood — were disqualified for not possessing a required retail water supply. But county staff indicated they were impressed with the applications overall.

“The county received a good pool of applicants,” said County Principal Planner Ruben Hernandez. “The applications were generally well put together. Most were extremely detailed, thorough and responsive.”

Burgis indicated all seven recommended cultivation companies would operate indoors, feature strict security and odor control, and be generally inconspicuous to the public.

“I know there are a lot of hopes that (cannabis) can make a lot of money,” Burgis said. “A lot of governments that hope it can make a lot of money, but there have also been some challenges for some of these communities, so we are being careful.”

Proposed cultivation applicant Lifted Spirit Collective — hoping to operate on Balfour Road in unincorporated Brentwood — garnered the highest score of all 19 cultivation applicants, with judges noting the facility’s local ownership, operators’ farming background, planned use of existing greenhouses and indoor cultivation as overt positives.

The facility plans to feature 4,361 square feet of cultivation at the 22,000-square-foot establishment. CEO Israel Martinez has been farming in the county since 1947.

The company also plans to give back to the community.

“We have a community benefit plan in place,” said Chief Operating Officer Oscar Burrola. “We do plan on donating to local shelters. We also hope to help people get off serious addictions by educating them on cannabis on how that will help … We’ll get out and talk to the community to see what needs to be done and what needs to be given.”

Fellow recommended applicant Element 7, which hopes to operate locations in unincorporated Brentwood and Byron, was ranked third and fourth out of 19 applicants.

Judges noted the staff has extensive cannabis experience and plans to implement strict security and provide about $30,000 in charitable community contributions annually, according to the official scoring sheet.

The company currently has cultivation, manufacturing, distribution and retail projects under development in 12 California cities.

Company officials could not be reached as of press time, but said in their official application it hopes to become the most compliant, controlled, taxed, tested and trusted cannabis business in Contra Costa County.

Diablo Valley Farms, ranked fifth, is also recommended to earn an opportunity to apply for a permit in unincorporated Brentwood, according to the county judging team.

The business, owned by local resident Bob Nunn, earned high marks for its local ownership with a background in farming, and for its plan to use an existing facility for operations.

Plans call for the operation to closely align with an already legally existing microplant processing center involving hemp that turns seeds into seedlings which are then sold, Nunn said.

“Our preference is basically to legally continue what we are doing and create the microplants for sale to other licensed operators,” he said. “By doing that, we are growing and selling something even before it becomes cannabis. It’s not even cannabis. It falls within the guidelines of hemp, but to be legal and straight up, we wanted to apply to this application.”

A handful of local residents at the supervisors’ last meeting expressed concern about the facility being near sensitive areas, including Sunset Park Athletic Complex and homes. But county staff said the location falls within its requirements, which include not being within 1,000 feet of youth centers.

Burgis said it’s important to understand the various applications that are before the board.

“There has been discussion about starter plants versus flowering plants versus hemp,” she said. “They are all different things. I have seen these grows. If someone is actually going to grow plants that don’t have any flower, that doesn’t have the value of crime that a lot of people think about. That is something to consider.”

The board is scheduled to make its final decision on Tuesday, Dec. 10.

For more information, or to view the completed business applications, visit www.bit.ly/2siCJ48.

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